It’s back to black for Mercedes for 2023, but will it be back to the form that yielded eight successive constructors’ championships?
The Silver Arrows delivered a slick presentation from Silverstone on Wednesday, unveiling the black-liveried W14 with the team humble and cautious about their chances of taking the fight to Red Bull.
When you walk into the lobby of Mercedes’ Brackley HQ, you’ll be met by a new piece of furniture: the W13 – the Silver Arrows’ challenger that caused them so much pain in 2022.
It yielded just one victory, at the penultimate round in Brazil, and was never in the fight to defend its constructors’ championship title. So why have Mercedes’ put their least successful car for a decade in pride of place?
“I wanted to put it in the lobby as a reminder that you must not rest on your laurels, but I want to place it in the lobby as it is a symbol of boldness for me and courage,” said Team Principal Toto Wolff. “We took a radical design direction last year and we dared, and we failed.
“For me that shows a lot about the mindset of the team, in how it is important to cope with success and failure, and I wouldn’t want us to go in any shape or form conservative in the future. I want us to take calculated risks and be bold.”
You could argue Mercedes have taken a risk in continuing to go down their own path with regards the car design, with the W14 continuing to feature very aggressive sidepods while most others have conformed towards the Red Bull or Ferrari-style of concept.
Technical Director Mike Elliott said Mercedes had considered going in a different direction, but after extensive analysis, they found “a lot of goodness” in the car. Those good ideas have stayed, but the team have worked around it, redeveloping the front and rear suspension, and as Wolff puts it, “stayed bold and continued to follow what the science says for us”.
The car was overweight all season long in 2022, so that has been a sharp focus for the team’s new car. While you can’t save significant time by removing paint, every hundredth counts – so the team have stripped the car back – moving to a black livery that features extensive naked carbon combined with some matt black paint.
Mercedes show off 2023 W14 F1 car with an all-black livery
Their hope, if calculations are right, is that they will meet the minimum weight this year, thus eradicating at least one thing that hampered their progress in 2022.
They’ve also taken a different approach to how they begin the season. Last year, they brought essentially an all-new car to the second test in Bahrain – and then found a plethora of problems that afflicted them more much of the season.
This time, the launch-spec car is the one that will not only run the shakedown at Silverstone, but aside from some minor tweaks will be the machine that completes the three days of testing before race one.
After a chastening season last year, the team – and the drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell – are taking a more cautious approach to this year. There’s genuine hope that they can be fighting for the world championship once more, and genuine belief that they have the right people in place to bounce back hard from last year’s disappointments.
But they also know how tough it is to close the gap in Formula 1 and it might be that they have a slower start while they understand the baseline car, before developing aggressively – including adding a revised sidepod design – over the course of the campaign.
They have an advantage in wind tunnel and CFD testing allocations, as they finished two places behind Red Bull in the constructors’ championship last year, while their world champion rivals also have to absorb a further reduction in that development time as part of a penalty for exceeding the cost cap.
If Mercedes have a good foundation, develop efficiently and aggressively, then Hamilton and Russell are in good shape to make the most of it. Wolff says Hamilton looks stronger coming out of winter than he has done at any other point during the last decade together, while Hamilton himself says he feels super strong and clearly looks energised and motivated to get cracking again.
He’s always been known to work extensively out of hours. Today, he’s even more dedicated. He admitted himself he’s been in the simulator more than ever over the last 18 months – and even put himself forward to do Pirelli tyre testing, completing two days recently, when normally he’d avoid it.
He knows that he must do everything in his power to find an edge to attack Red Bull and make himself a title contender once again.
Over the other side of the garage, Russell enters the season having one of his smoothest pre-seasons, leaving him in a good place both professionally and privately.
That maiden win in Brazil has had the expected positive impact on his confidence and he’s been working hard to iron out the kinks, including learning to be more disciplined in knowing to push and when not to push.
His good relationship with Hamilton will help the duo work together efficiently in making the most out of this package – as in being the chasers, they need to take every opportunity that comes their way. Toppling Red Bull and Ferrari will be no easy task – but if any team in the pit lane knows how to win, it’s the Silver Arrows.